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What Is the Future Use of Drones in Delivery Service?

By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

Amazon is the third U.S. company after UPS and Alphabet’s Wing subsidiary to receive FAA approval to conduct drone deliveries. Drones provide a useful way to deliver badly needed medical supplies, food and other staples to people in remote areas.

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For example, there are several states and territories in the U.S. that have island communities that are only accessible by boat, because the island is too small to support aircraft. Those areas include remote islands in Hawaii, Alaska and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, as well as the extended portion of the Mauritian Islands.

Are Drones Good for the Environment?

From an environmental standpoint, drones are smaller than planes or vehicles, so their effect on the atmosphere is less negative. Most drones are battery- or solar-powered, which means they can deliver around the clock. In addition, they experience less wear and tear than a traditional vehicle.

Drones also provide a huge cost savings by not requiring fuel to operate. According to The Motley Fool, Amazon has spent $47 billion on shipping costs over the last four quarters, and shipping costs have historically grown faster than revenue. Using drones for delivery could save Amazon considerable money.

But one drawback to drone use is weather. Unlike planes and other vehicles which can endure some forms of adverse weather, a drone delivery can be delayed or canceled based on the mere mention of bad weather in a forecast. An interruption in delivery can be detrimental if the package contains life-saving equipment or medicine and has a time-sensitive delivery timeframe.

How Will Humans Contribute to Drone Delivery?

The ability to deliver a product via drone in 30 minutes or less presents a whole new market for experienced pilots, technicians and delivery services. After passing a test and acquiring a license, a drone pilot could monitor the package being transported both visually or remotely using a built-in camera.

Similar to planes, drones will need to pass a series of checks before being given the green light to proceed. As a result, there will be an uptick in the number of on-the-spot mechanics needed to service drones.

Most drone deliveries are less than 20 miles and depending on the size of the drone, it can deliver a package up to 20 pounds. According to Business Insider, drones have artificial intelligence systems that help them sense and avoid obstacles like power lines and chimneys. So if visual confirmation is needed from a human, there will be a need for more employees to monitor drones at a short range.

What Are the Ethical Ramifications of Using Drones for Delivery?

There are several ethical considerations before drones can become mainstream for delivery use:

  1. How are lost, stolen or damaged packages addressed?
  2. Does a company have to disclose the drone route in advance, and does this disclosure give rival companies a competitive advantage?
  3. What happens if a drone drops a package?
  4. Who needs to approve the delivery route in advance to avoid high-traffic areas, power lines, wind farms, airports, and added noise to residential areas?
  5. How do you ensure equitable service to customers located in rural areas and metropolitan areas?
  6. How will the safety of the package be ensured?
  7. Who would be responsible for overseeing drone operations infractions/violations in companies? Would that be an e-commerce challenge or a transportation challenge?

The reality is that many, if not all, of the drone delivery services are still in the testing phase and for a good reason. Until these ethical issues are addressed uniformly, they will possibly delay the drone delivery approval process even more.

It may be years before universal federal regulations are introduced. So for now, plan on deliveries made by boat, plane, train and automobile.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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